Spotlight always finds Academy at the Lakes ace Lexi Kilfoyl

The Alabama signee doesn’t necessarily seek it out, but there’s never been any hiding her talent as she leads her team back to state.
Academy at the Lakes pitcher Alexis Kilfoyl (9) fields an infield grounder at the bottom of the first inning during last year's Class 2A state championship vs. Aucilla Christian. (ANDRES LEIVA   |   Special to the Times)
Academy at the Lakes pitcher Alexis Kilfoyl (9) fields an infield grounder at the bottom of the first inning during last year's Class 2A state championship vs. Aucilla Christian. (ANDRES LEIVA | Special to the Times)
Published May 20

LAND O’ LAKES — Before Lexi Kilfoyl walked across the stage to receive her high school diploma this past weekend, Academy at the Lakes administrators read off her softball accomplishments.

Florida Dairy Farmers and Gatorade State Player of the Year last season. Member of the 2019 USA Softball Junior Women’s National Training Team. University of Alabama signee.

The list went on for about three minutes. Finally, it was cut short to keep the ceremony moving in a timely manner.

As the area’s most recognizable — and decorated — pitcher, Kilfoyl is used to having the spotlight. Still, these are the moments where she would like to fade from view.

“Lexi is just very humble,” Academy at the Lakes coach Diane Stephenson said. “She would do anything not to have the attention placed on her.”

Stephenson knows from experience. Last year, she put together a pep rally before the team headed to Vero Beach for the state tournament. There were plenty of trophies and banners on display, most belonging to Kilfoyl. She started blushing once she saw the homage, politely nudging her coach to put the items away.

[ RELATED: Scouting Academy at the Lakes’ state softball semifinal ]

Though Kilfoyl tries to avoid headline-grabbing moments, she does a remarkable job of creating them. The 6-foot-1 senior can be an intimidating presence in the circle, especially when she whips her arm around to throw a 70-mph pitch.

Last year, Kilfoyl put up gaudy numbers, going 23-1 with a 0.32 ERA and 249 strikeouts. In the state title game, she outdueled Aucilla Christian’s Elizabeth Hightower, now at Florida. Parents of other teams stuck around, despite a steady drizzle, to watch Kilfoyl pitch.

Academy at the Lakes pitcher Alexis Kilfoyl (9) smiles at head coach Diane Stephenson after the end of last year's Class 2A state championship. (ANDRES LEIVA   |   Special to the Times)
Academy at the Lakes pitcher Alexis Kilfoyl (9) smiles at head coach Diane Stephenson after the end of last year's Class 2A state championship. (ANDRES LEIVA | Special to the Times)

Kilfoyl is back to lead her team another state title. On Tuesday, the Wildcats (17-7) face Palatka Peniel Baptist Academy (21-4) in the Class 2A semifinals at Vero Beach.

“I think it’s safe to say Lexi is the biggest athlete at the school,” said her father, Homer. “She has definitely helped the program get to the level where it is now.”

It almost did not turn out that way.

[ RELATED: Academy at the Lakes wins first state softball title ]

As a child, Lexi took up gymnastics, dance and soccer. She did not like softball when she started in Little League more than a decade ago.

“I was more of a girly girl at the time,” Lexi said. “I didn’t like getting dirty and being outside all day. And I didn’t like my Little League team. I felt like I wasn’t getting a fair shot.”

She was ready to quit. Her father got her to reconsider after he agreed to become her coach.

Homer played baseball and hockey as a youngster in North Dakota. His wife, Christine, was a basketball, softball and volleyball player in Chicago.

They helped Lexi become an ace. There were pitching lessons and workouts and games. Homer even built batting cages, a pitching mound and a softball circle in the backyard.

Lexi was not just taller than other players her age. She threw hard, too. By the time she was 7, opposing hitters started jumping out of the batter’s box, quivering at each ball that whizzed past them.

[ RELATED: Lexi Kilfoyl getting back into ace shape for Academy at the Lakes ]

Once Lexi entered high school, she already looked like a college pitcher.

Even other parents were fooled.

At one pitching lesson, Lexi was wearing an Alabama cap. The father of another player presumed Lexi pitched for the Crimson Tide.

Once the dad discovered Lexi was a high school freshman, he did a few double takes.

This season, Lexi had to endure her first injury. She strained a muscle in her right shoulder, forcing her to miss a month of pitching in games.

“It was scary at first,” said Lexi, who has a 0.57 ERA with 115 strikeouts, while also leading the team in batting average (.554), RBIs (31) and home runs (11). “Everybody was freaking about it. It was something I had to get past, mentally and physically.”

Stronger, focused and injury-free, Lexi is back to shutting down opponents. Now, she is two games from adding another state title to her list of achievements.

“I don’t know if it’s really hit me,” she said. “It doesn’t feel like it’s over. But I know I’m getting better with talking about the accomplishments for myself and the team.

“I was really shy and insecure about those things before. I’m more comfortable now. I’ve had a lot of practice with it.”

Contact Bob Putnam at bputnam@tampabay.com. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.

State softball semifinals

Jackie Robinson Training Complex, Vero Beach

Admission: $9 advance, $12 day of; parking $10.

Class 2A: Palatka Peniel Baptist vs. Academy at the Lakes, 10:35 a.m. Tuesday

Class 3A: Jacksonville University Christian vs. Admiral Farragut, 3:35 p.m. Tuesday

Class 4A: Tampa Catholic vs. Miami Westminster Christian, 7:20 p.m. Tuesday

Class 5A: Hernando vs. Coral Springs Charter, 9:50 a.m. Thursday

Class 9A: Newsome vs. Coral Gables, 7:50 p.m. Thursday

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